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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 29 Mar. 2013
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This review is from: A History of the Arab Peoples: Updated Edition (Paperback)
I am reviewing this as a general reader and so cannot comment on any academic points. I and bought this book alongside 'North Africa' by Barnaby Rogerson (which I found more colloquial and a little careless in style and opinions)

A History of the Arabs is not an afternoon speed-read by any means - but I found it highly informative. It filled in massive gaps in my knowledge, exacerbated by superficial news items which seldom, if ever, delve into an explanation based on a proper history of the Arab World. We tend to have things presented to us as 'this leader is a baddy so we want to get rid of him for someone better'....until the new ruler's turn in the unpopularity stakes comes in a decade or two. Frighteningly, we seem to back a new regime even when we have no idea what it is or what it will do.

The work covers the period from well before Mohammed - the time of the Roman and Byzantine Empires - up to the 1980s - with a useful afterword by Malise Ruthven in 2012. There are detailed descriptions of art, architecture, poetry, language, geography, changing national boundaries and the divisions of Islam - and the rapid spread of the various forms of the religion.

To begin to understand the role of Britain in the Arab and Israeli world can make one feel embarrassed and ashamed - though it has been argued that colonisation, even if patronising, is not actually all bad where a there are minorities liable to hostile treatment eg Coptic Christians amongst others.

Comments made by Hourani that "Women could still scarcely find a public role other than teacher or nurse" in the Maghrib in the pre WWII years I found amusing - as these jobs would have been a commendable achievement for the women in Hourani's native city of Manchester, Britain,in the 1970s.

Also his observations that there were rules - very many years ago - about when women could leave their houses is not dissimilar to the long period of post war UK - the rules were less explicit but there was huge debate about whether married women should work - often taken as a sign of poverty or stealing jobs from the men - and many, e.g. teachers, were expected to resign on marriage - leaving the house was with children, to go shopping or to visit a female relative. Even now most solitary females outside London do not feel comfortable going alone to public houses - and certainly not in the evenings.

To become acquainted with the myriad complexities of Islam, the Arab world, ancient "tribal" conquests and recent/current wars this is a great primer - the correct versions of the Arabic names took me some time to get used to but the brain cells benefited, I am sure.

The one downside is the maps which I found very poor and not at all easy to use - so you might want a separate map of the North Africa/Mediterranean Basin/Arab Peninsular unless you are already familiar with the areas.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Jan 2014 17:57:17 GMT
K. Harbottle says:
Women working as teachers and nurses in 1970's Britain would have been a "commendable achievement". What utter rubbish!

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Jan 2014 15:37:32 GMT
I think you misunderstood finchy, he means you to refer to his quote and apply "other than teacher or nurse" to 1970's Manchester.
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